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Legal Aid Crisis Ahead? Or Is It Here Now?

Legal Aid Crisis Ahead? Or Is It Here Now?

LawFuel - The Law Jobs and Legal NewsWire

The current legal aid situation in New Zealand is headed for the same crisis as those in the UK and elsewhere, with a growing number of legal aid candidates, combined with unattractive payments and heavy overheads.

The fears are raised in the Justice and Electoral Committee's latest financial review of the Legal Services Agency raises fears that a shortage of active legal aid providers might affect the ability of citizens to access legal help, particularly as the number of people expected to hit the legal aid eligibility threshhold doubles to 1.5 million New Zealanders.

However, in the last six months of 2007 there were over 1200 lawyers and law firms handling legal aid work - no apparent shortage - who received in excess of $88 million in legal aid payments for the period.

Interestingly, among the highest paid was one of New Zealand's largest law firms, Kensington Swan, who took over $1.3 million in legal aid payments for the six month period. Kensington Swan took over $3.5 million for the 18 months up until the end of 2007.

The question is not so much the quality of legal services, but the direction in which much legal aid funding is directed. Several lawyers spoken to by LawFuel expressed amazement that a major, commercial firm had received so much legal aid money.

Kensington Swan have not acknowledged LawFuel's requests for further details on their work in respect of which legal aid monies were paid.

Equally concerning for many lawyers is the cost of administering the scheme, which is rising towards $20 million a year.

Many legal aid lawyers consider the pay rates mean-spirited and unable to meet the costs of preparing litigation, including paying expert witnesses, meeting travel costs and paying GST.


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